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Sweden’s EU term presidency

On Wednesday Sweden took over the helmet for the European Union term presidency. Sweden will face a quite difficult term. Even preparations for the decision about Turkey to be taken at the end of the year are enough to be handled in a six-month term presidency.

Sweden is a country that has already grasped the importance of Turkey’s integration with the EU and uttering it by any chance. No matter who is in the government, this policy has never changed in Sweden. Just like the U.S. administration.

At the cost of exasperating French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, neither Sweden nor the United States hesitate to express their opinions on the subject. Sarkozy canceled a trip to Sweden when the Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt made pro-Turkey remarks to the French daily Le Figaro in May. Turkey is again the reason why Sarkozy frequently answers back to U.S. President Barack Obama.

Bildt and his team didn’t wait for the last minute. They have been back and forth between Europe, Turkey and Cyprus and have now set up the "Cyprus Working Group" in Stockholm. Sweden long ago realized the crucial effect of Cyprus reunification talks over Turkey’s accession negotiations with the EU particularly and its relations with the EU generally.

Similarly, an informal group, "Like-minded countries on Turkey’s EU membership," formed in Ankara, is gathering pace. The group initiated by Britain, Italy, Spain and Sweden expanded with the participation of Belgium, Estonia, Finland, Lithuania, Hungary and Poland. Denmark and the Netherlands are said to be providing occasional support to the group, that may be reinforced in the months to come. On the other side, elections in Germany scheduled for Sept. 27 will show if the new German government will be at odds with Swedish and Spanish efforts regarding our negotiations. I personally do not expect an anti-Turkey coalition in Germany this fall.

Friendly EU presidencies

A new negotiation chapter was opened during the Intergovernmental Conference. The 11th chapter is about taxation. And Turkey promised to review taxes on all tobacco products by the end of the year. However, there couldn’t be any more chapters opened during Sweden’s EU term presidency despite all. I kept saying for years: Turkey which cannot see the end of the road regarding its accession and is being insulted by Sarkozy-likes, can neither make any more concessions in trade nor make any pre-spending required for the opening of new chapters. It seems that the government is hiding behind this impossibility and failing to conduct the EU works. But nothing is over yet. When Sarkozy decided to suspend five negotiation chapters in June 2007 and his administration tried like a child to get involved in every single sentence about "accession" uttered in Brussels, we should have called France to diplomatic account. This still can be done.

Despite all odds, the situation is quite conducive until the end of 2011. Now Sweden, then Spain, Belgium, Hungary and Poland will become term presidents during a two-and-a-half year period. All are pro-Turkey. In the meantime, we should exert efforts to clear the way for the opening of new negotiation chapters. In this context, we have to deal with Sarkozy's opposition. The "Turkey Season" in France activities that will continue for nine months will be a way to have direct communication. So is Istanbul, European Capital of Culture in 2010.

In parallel, the government should strongly support a solution in Cyprus and most importantly ask EU countries to utter an accession date. Once a membership date is uttered or discussed, the rest will come.

It is a must to break-up Sarkozy-likes’ monopoly over statements and messages against Turkey’s EU bid. The counter-messages should at least be as serious and thought provoking as his. When Sarkozy says, "No matter what you do, you will never be an EU member", pro-Turkey countries usually say, "Don’t worry. They treated us badly too. Be patient and work hard." But this is enough no more!

Pro-Turkey countries should be able to say as loudly as possible, "We want to see Turkey among us until such and such date." And they should say it in Europe not here. This is the communication we need.
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